Chemistry versus Opera

Alexander Borodin
Alexander Borodin

Composer Alexander Borodin was a chemistry professor by profession and so he had a slightly detached view of making music. He had to do justice to two careers–one for his students, the other for the public. He wrote to a friend on June 10th, 1876:

“As a composer trying to remain anonymous I am wary of discussing my musical activity. That makes sense enough. For others music is the mainstay of their life. For me it’s a diversion, a hobby that distracts me from my primary occupation–my professorship. I love my profession and my science. I love the Academy and my students, male and female, because in order to direct the work of others a person has to be close to them at all times. I have the interests of the Academy in mind. On the other hand, if I want to finish my opera, I’m afraid of throwing myself into it too fervently and letting it overshadow my scientific work.

“But ever since the performance of the chorus from Prince Igor, everyone knows that I’m working on an opera. No longer is there anything to hide or be embarrassed about. I’m like the girl who has lost her innocence and has thus acquired a certain kind of freedom. Now, by hook or by crook, I’ve got to finish the work.

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“In opera, as in decorative art, there is no place for details and minutiae, it’s necessary to stick to the big picture. Everything has to be clear and straightforward. The voices should be most prominent, followed by the orchestra.

“It’s odd the way everyone in our group agrees in their praise of my work. While we disagree about everything else, so far everyone likes Prince Igor. Such is the story of my child Igor, whose time has yet to arrive.”